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16 mm film showing a sound track at right USN16mmSoundtrack.jpg
16 mm film showing a sound track at right

A soundtrack [2] is recorded sound accompanying and synchronised to the images of a book, drama, motion picture, radio program, television program, or video game; colloquially, a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film, video, or television presentation; or the physical area of a film that contains the synchronised recorded sound. [1]


In movie industry terminology usage, a sound track is an audio recording created or used in film production or post-production. Initially, the dialogue, sound effects, and music in a film each has its own separate track, and these are mixed together to make what is called the composite track, which is heard in the film. A dubbing track is often later created when films are dubbed into another language. This is also known as an M&E (music and effects) track. M&E tracks contain all sound elements minus dialogue, which is then supplied by the foreign distributor in the native language of its territory.

Current dictionary entries for soundtrack document soundtrack as a noun, and as a verb. [3] [4] An early attempt at popularizing the term sound track was printed in the magazine Photoplay in 1929. [5] A 1992 technical dictionary entry in the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology does not distinguish between the form sound track and soundtrack. [6]

The contraction soundtrack came into public consciousness with the advent of so-called soundtrack albums in the late 1940s. First conceived by movie companies as a promotional gimmick for new films, these commercially available recordings were labeled and advertised as "music from the original motion picture soundtrack", or "music from and inspired by the motion picture." These phrases were soon shortened to just "original motion picture soundtrack." More accurately, such recordings are made from a film's music track, because they usually consist of isolated music from a film, not the composite (sound) track with dialogue and sound effects.

The term original soundtrack (OST), often used for titles of albums of soundtrack music, is sometimes also used to differentiate the original music heard and recorded versus a rerecording or cover version.

Types of recordings

Types of soundtrack recordings include:

  1. Musical film soundtracks are for the film versions of musical theatre; they concentrate primarily on the songs.
    (Examples: Grease , Singin' in the Rain )
  2. Film scores showcase the primarily instrumental musical themes and background music from movies.
    (Examples: The Wizard of Oz , Psycho [7] )
  3. For movies that contain both orchestral film scores and pop songs, both types of music.
    (Examples: Shrek series)
  4. Albums of popular songs heard in whole or part in the background of non-musical movies.
    (Examples: Sleepless in Seattle , When Harry Met Sally... )
  5. Video game soundtracks are often released after a game's release, usually consisting of the theme and background music from the game's levels, menus, title screens, promo material (such as entire songs of which only segments were used in the game), cut-screens and occasionally sound-effects used in the game.
    (Examples: Sonic Heroes , The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time )
  6. Albums which contain both music and dialogue from the film, such as the 1968 Romeo and Juliet , or the first authentic soundtrack album of The Wizard of Oz .

The soundtrack to the 1937 Walt Disney animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first commercially issued film soundtrack. [8] It was released by RCA Victor Records on multiple 78 RPM discs in January 1938 as Songs from Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (with the Same Characters and Sound Effects as in the Film of That Title) and has since seen numerous expansions and reissues.

The first live-action musical film to have a commercially issued soundtrack album was MGM's 1946 film biography of Show Boat composer Jerome Kern, Till the Clouds Roll By . The album was originally issued as a set of four 10-inch 78-rpm records. Only eight selections from the film were included in this first edition of the album. In order to fit the songs onto the record sides the musical material needed editing and manipulation. This was before tape existed, so the record producer needed to copy segments from the playback discs used on set, then copy and re-copy them from one disc to another adding transitions and cross-fades until the final master was created. Needless to say, it was several generations removed from the original and the sound quality suffered for it. The playback recordings were purposely recorded very dry (without reverberation); otherwise it would come across as too hollow sounding in large movie theatres. This made these albums sound flat and boxy.


MGM Records called these "original cast albums" in the style of Decca Broadway show cast albums mostly because the material on the discs would not lock to picture, thereby creating the largest distinction between 'Original Motion Picture Soundtrack' which, in its strictest sense would contain music that would lock to picture if the home user would play one alongside the other and 'Original Cast Soundtrack' which in its strictest sense would refer to studio recordings of film music by the original film cast, but which had been edited or rearranged for time and content and would not lock to picture. [9]

In reality, however, soundtrack producers remain ambiguous about this distinction, and titles in which the music on the album does lock to picture may be labeled as OCS and music from an album that does not lock to picture may be referred to as OMPS.

The phrase "recorded directly from the soundtrack" was used for a while in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to differentiate material that would lock to picture from that which would not (excluding alternate masters and alternate vocals or solos). However, partly because many 'film takes' actually consisted of several different attempts at the song edited together, over time that term became nebulous as well. For example, in cases where the master take used in the film could not be found in its isolated form (without the M&E), the aforementioned alternate masters and alternate vocal and solo performances might be used instead.

As a result of all this ambiguity, over the years the term soundtrack began to be commonly applied to any recording from a film, whether taken from the actual film soundtrack or re-recorded in the studio at an earlier or later time. The term is also sometimes used for Broadway cast recordings.

Contributing to the vagueness of the term are projects such as The Sound of Music Live! , which was filmed live on the set for an NBC holiday season special first broadcast in 2013. The album, released three days before the broadcast, contained studio pre-recordings by the original cast of all the songs used in the special, but because only the orchestral portion of the material from the album is the same as that used in the special (i.e., the vocals were sung live over a prerecorded track), this creates a similar technicality. Although the instrumental music bed from the CD will lock to picture, the vocal performances will not (although it is possible to create a complete soundtrack recording by lifting the vocal performances from the DVD, erasing the alternate vocal masters from the CD and combining the two).

Among MGM's most notable soundtrack albums were those of the films Good News , Easter Parade , Annie Get Your Gun , Singin' in the Rain , [10] Show Boat , The Band Wagon , Seven Brides for Seven Brothers , and Gigi .

Film score albums

Film score albums did not really become popular until the LP era, although a few were issued in 78-rpm albums. Alex North's score for the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire was released on a 10-inch LP by Capitol Records and sold so well that the label rereleased it on one side of a 12-inch LP with some of Max Steiner's film music on the reverse.

Steiner's score for Gone with the Wind has been recorded many times, but when the film was reissued in 1967, MGM Records finally released an album of the famous score recorded directly from the soundtrack. Like the 1967 rerelease of the film, this version of the score was artificially enhanced for stereo. In recent years, Rhino Records has released a 2-CD set of the complete Gone With the Wind score, restored to its original mono sound.

One of the biggest-selling film scores of all time was John Williams' music from the movie Star Wars . Many film score albums go out of print after the films finish their theatrical runs and some have become extremely rare collectors' items.

Composite film tracks included on record

In a few rare instances an entire film dialogue track was issued on records. The 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film of Romeo and Juliet was issued as a 4-LP set, as a single LP with musical and dialogue excerpts, and as an album containing only the film's musical score. The ground-breaking film Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was issued by Warner Bros Records as a 2-LP set containing virtually all the dialogue from the film. RCA Victor also issued a double-album set what was virtually all the dialogue from the film soundtrack of A Man for All Seasons , Decca Records issued a double-album for Man of La Mancha and Disney Music Group (formerly Buena Vista Records) issued a similar double-album for its soundtrack for The Hobbit .

Film and television soundtracks

When a blockbuster film is released, or during and after a television series airs, an album in the form of a soundtrack is typically released alongside that.

A soundtrack typically contains instrumentation or alternatively a film score. But it can also feature songs that were sung or performed by characters in a scene (or a cover version of a song in the media, rerecorded by a popular artist), songs that were used as intentional or unintentional background music in important scenes, songs that were heard in the closing credits, or songs for no apparent reason related to the media other than for promotion, that were included in a soundtrack.

Soundtracks are usually released on major record labels (just as if they were released by a musical artist), and the songs and the soundtrack itself can also be on music charts, and win musical awards.

By convention, a soundtrack record can contain all kinds of music including music inspired by but not actually appearing in the movie; the score contains only music by the original film's composers. [11]

Contemporaneously, a soundtrack can go against normality, (most typically used in popular culture franchises) and contains recently released and/or exclusive never before released original pop music selections, (some of which become high charting records on their own, which due to being released on another franchises title, peaked because of that) and is simply used for promotional purposes for well known artists, or new or unknown artists. These soundtracks contain music not at all heard in the film/television series, and any artistic or lyrical connection is purely coincidental.

However depending on the genre of the media the soundtrack of popular songs would have a set pattern; a lighthearted romance might feature easy listening love songs, whilst a more dark thriller would compose of hard rock or urban music.

In 1908, Camille Saint-Saëns composed the first music specifically for use in a motion picture (L'assasinat du duc de Guise), and releasing recordings of songs used in films became prevalent in the 1930s. Henry Mancini, who won an Emmy Award and two Grammys for his soundtrack to Peter Gunn , was the first composer to have a widespread hit with a song from a soundtrack.

Before the 1970s, soundtracks (with a few exceptions), accompanied towards musicals, and was an album that featured vocal and instrumental, (and instrumental versions of vocal songs) musical selections performed by cast members. Or cover versions of songs sung by another artist.

After the 1970s, soundtracks started to include more diversity, and music consumers would anticipate a motion picture or television soundtrack. Majority of top charting songs were those featured or released on a film or television soundtrack album.

In recent years the term soundtrack sort of subsided. It now mostly commonly refers to instrumental background music used in that media. Popular songs featured in a film or television series are instead highlighted and referenced in the credits, not as part of a soundtrack.

Psychology of music and film soundtracks

In the late 1980s, cognitive psychology and psychology of music started an investigation on the impact that the soundtrack exerts on the interpretation of audiovisual stimuli. Canadian psychologist Annabel J. Cohen is one of the first scholars who systematically studied the relationship between music and moving image within the interpretation process of brief animated videos. Her studies converged in the Congruence-Association Model of music and multimedia. [12] [13] More recent empirical studies proved that the film music goes far beyond the role of an emotionalizing accessory in film contexts; [14] contrarily, it can radically alter the empathy experienced by the viewers toward the characters on screen, attributed emotions (e.g., whether a character is happy or sad), [15] evaluation of the scenic environments, plot anticipations, [16] and moral judgement of the characters. [17] Furthermore, eyetracking and pupillometry studies found that film music is able to influence gaze direction and pupil dilation depending on its emotional valence and semantic information conveyed. [18] [16] [19] Recently, new experiments showed that film music can alter time perception while watching movies; in particular, soundtracks deemed as activating and arousing lead to time overestimation as opposed to more relaxing or sad music. [20] Lastly, soundtracks have been proved to shape the memory of the scene that the viewers form, to the point of biasing their recall coherently with the music's semantic contents. [21] [22] [23]

Video game soundtracks

Soundtrack may also refer to music used in video games. While sound effects were nearly universally used for action happening in the game, music to accompany the gameplay was a later development. Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway were early composers of music specifically for video games for the 1980s Commodore 64 computer. Koji Kondo was an early and important composer for Nintendo games. As the technology improved, polyphonic and often orchestral soundtracks replaced simple monophonic melodies starting in the late 1980s and the soundtracks to popular games such as the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series began to be released separately. In addition to compositions written specifically for video games, the advent of CD technology allowed developers to incorporate licensed songs into their soundtrack (the Grand Theft Auto series is a good example of this). Furthermore, when Microsoft released the Xbox in 2001, it featured an option allowing users to customize the soundtrack for certain games by ripping a CD to the hard-drive.

Theme park, cruise ship, and event soundtracks

As in Sound of Music Live! the music or dialogue in question was prepared specifically for use in or at an event such as that described above.

In the case of theme parks, actors may be ensconced in large costumes where their faces may be obscured. They mime along to a prerecorded music, effects and narration track that may sound as if it was lifted from a movie, or may sound as if it had been overly dramatized for effect.

In the case of cruise ships, the small stage spaces do not allow for full orchestration, so that possibly the larger instruments may be pre-recorded onto a backing track and the remaining instruments may play live, or the reverse may occur in such instances as Elvis: The Concert or Sinatra: His Voice. His World. His Way both of which use isolated vocal and video performances accompanied by a live band.

In the case of event soundtracks, large public gatherings such as Hands Across America , The Live Aid Concert, the 200th Anniversary Celebration of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, The MUSE Concerts or the various Greenpeace events (i.e. The First International Greenpeace Record Project, Rainbow Warriors and Alternative NRG) all had special music, effects and dialogue written especially for the event which later went on sale to the record and later video-buying public.

Book soundtracks

Only a few cases exist of an entire soundtrack being written specifically for a book.

'Kaladin', a book soundtrack to popular fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson's book, 'The Way of Kings', was written by The Black Piper. The Black Piper, hailing from Provo, Utah, is a combined group of composers who share a love for fantasy literature. 'Kaladin' was funded through Kickstarter and raised over $112,000. It was released December 2017. [ citation needed ]

A New York Times Bestselling series, Green Rider by Kristen Britain, celebrated its 25th anniversary with the release of a book soundtrack by the same name. It was recorded in Utah, featuring artist Jenny Oaks Baker and William Arnold and was released in 2018.

A soundtrack for J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was composed by Craig Russell for the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony. Commissioned in 1995, it was finally put on disk in 2000 by the San Luis Obispo Symphony. [ citation needed ]

For the 1996 Star Wars novel Shadows of the Empire (written by author Steve Perry), Lucasfilm chose Joel McNeely to write a score. This was an eccentric, experimental project, in contrast to all other soundtracks, as the composer was allowed to convey general moods and themes, rather than having to write music to flow for specific scenes. A project called "Sine Fiction" [24] has made some soundtracks to novels by science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, and has thus far released 19 soundtracks to science-fiction novels or short stories. All of them are available for free download.

Author L. Ron Hubbard composed and recorded a soundtrack album to his novel Battlefield Earth entitled Space Jazz . He marketed the concept album as "the only original sound track ever produced for a book before it becomes a movie". There are two other soundtracks to Hubbard novels, being Mission Earth by Edgar Winter and To the Stars by Chick Corea.

The 1985 novel Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin originally came in a box set with an audiocassette entitled Music and Poetry of the Kesh, featuring three performances of poetry, and ten musical compositions by Todd Barton.

In comics, Daniel Clowes' graphic novel Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron had an official soundtrack album. The original black-and-white Nexus #3 from Capitol comics included the Flexi-Nexi which was a soundtrack flexi-disc for the issue. Trosper by Jim Woodring included a soundtrack album composed and performed by Bill Frisell, [25] and the Absolute Edition of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier is planned to include an original vinyl record. The Crow released a soundtrack album called Fear and Bullets to coincide with the limited edition hardcover copy of the graphic novel. The comic book Hellblazer released an annual with a song called Venus of the Hardsell , which was then recorded and a music video to accompany with.

The Brazilian graphic novel Achados e Perdidos (Lost and Found), by Eduardo Damasceno and Luís Felipe Garrocho, had an original soundtrack composed by musician Bruno Ito. The book was self-published in 2011 after a crowdfunding campaign and was accompanied by a CD with eight songs (one for each chapter of the story). In 2012, this graphic novel won the Troféu HQ Mix (Brazilian most important comic book award) in the category "Special Homage". [26] [27]

As Internet access became more widespread, a similar practice developed of accompanying a printed work with a downloadable theme song, rather than a complete and physically published album. The theme songs for Nextwave , [28] Runaways , [29] Achewood , and Dinosaur Comics are examples of this. The novella Chasing Homer (2019) by László Krasznahorkai was published with an original soundtrack by Miklos Szilveszter, accessible through a QR code at the start of each chapter. [30]

In Japan, such examples of music inspired by a work and not intended to soundtrack a radio play or motion picture adaptation of it are known as an image album or image song , though this definition also includes such things as film score demos inspired by concept art and songs inspired by a TV series that are not featured in them. Many audiobooks have some form of musical accompaniment, but these are generally not extensive enough to be released as a separate soundtrack.

See also

Related Research Articles

A cast recording is a recording of a stage musical that is intended to document the songs as they were performed in the show and experienced by the audience. An original cast recording or OCR, as the name implies, features the voices of the show's original cast. A cast recording featuring the first cast to perform a musical in a particular venue is known, for example, as an "original Broadway cast recording" (OBCR) or an "original London cast recording" (OLCR).

A soundtrack album is any album that incorporates music directly recorded from the soundtrack of a particular feature film or television show. The first such album to be commercially released was Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the soundtrack to the film of the same name, in 1938. The first soundtrack album of a film's orchestral score was that for Alexander Korda's 1942 film Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, composed by Miklós Rózsa.

<i>Jersey Boys</i> (soundtrack) 2014 soundtrack album / cast recording by various artists

Jersey Boys (Music from the Motion Picture and Broadway Musical) is the soundtrack to the 2014 film Jersey Boys directed by Clint Eastwood, based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. The album, released on June 24, 2014 by Rhino Entertainment, features a mix of original recordings by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, plus new recordings from the cast members and tracks from the original Broadway cast recording. The album was preceded by the single "Cry For Me".

<i>Goldfinger</i> (soundtrack) 1964 soundtrack album by John Barry

Goldfinger is the soundtrack of the 1964 film of the same name, the third film in the James Bond film series, directed by Guy Hamilton. The album was composed by John Barry and distributed by EMI. Two versions were released initially, one in the United States and the United Kingdom, which varied in terms of length and which tracks were within the soundtrack. In 2003, Capitol-EMI records released a remastered version that contained all the tracks within the film.

Musical selections in <i>The Wizard of Oz</i>

The songs from the 1939 musical fantasy film The Wizard of Oz have taken their place among the most famous and instantly recognizable American songs of all time, and the film's principal song, "Over the Rainbow", is perhaps the most famous song ever written for a film. Music and lyrics were by Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, who won an Academy Award for Best Song for "Over the Rainbow."

<i>Rent</i> (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) 2005 soundtrack album

Rent (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is the soundtrack to the 2005 musical drama film Rent, based on Jonathan Larson's 1996 Broadway musical of the same name, in turn based on Giacomo Puccini's 1896 opera La bohème. The musical numbers performed by the cast including Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Tracie Thoms and Rosario Dawson. The soundtrack to the film was released by Warner Bros. Records on September 23, 2005.

<i>Escape from New York</i> (soundtrack) 1981 film score by John Carpenter

Escape from New York: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is a soundtrack album composed and performed by John Carpenter, featuring the score to the 1981 film Escape from New York.

<i>Scott Pilgrim vs. the World</i> (soundtrack) 2010 soundtrack album by various artists

Two soundtrack albums were released for the motion picture Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: an original soundtrack and an original score. Music producer Nigel Godrich, film director Edgar Wright, and film producer Marc Platt executive produced both soundtracks, with Godrich also composing the original score. The soundtrack includes music by Beck, Broken Social Scene, Metric, Black Lips, T. Rex, the Rolling Stones, Frank Black and Plumtree. They were released on August 10, 2010; the original score only on digital download. A 2021 re-release saw additional music by Brie Larson added to the soundtrack, and a physical version of the score.

<i>2001: A Space Odyssey</i> (soundtrack) 1968 soundtrack album by various artists

2001: A Space Odyssey is a soundtrack album to the film of the same name, released in 1968. The soundtrack is known for its use of many classical and orchestral pieces, and credited for giving many classical pieces resurgences in popularity, such as Johann Strauss II's 1866 Blue Danube Waltz, Richard Strauss' symphonic poem Also sprach Zarathustra, and György Ligeti's Atmosphères. The soundtrack has been re-issued multiple times, including a digitally remastered version in 1996.

The music of The Hobbit film series is composed, orchestrated, and produced by Howard Shore, who scored all three The Lord of the Rings films, to which The Hobbit film trilogy is a prequel series. It continues the style of The Lord of the Rings score, using a vast ensemble, multiple musical forms and styles, many leitmotifs, and unusual instruments.

<i>Mary Poppins: Original Cast Soundtrack</i> 1964 soundtrack album by Irwin Kostal

Mary Poppins: Original Cast Soundtrack is the soundtrack album of the 1964 film Mary Poppins, with music and lyrics written by songwriters Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and adapted and conducted by Irwin Kostal.

<i>The Hundred-Foot Journey</i> (soundtrack) 2014 soundtrack album by A. R. Rahman

The Hundred-Foot Journey: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the soundtrack album to the American comedy-drama film of the same name, directed by Lasse Hallström from a screenplay written by Steven Knight. A. R. Rahman composed the score for the film. Hollywood Records released the soundtrack on August 12, 2014.

<i>Mad Max 2</i> (soundtrack) 1982 soundtrack album by Brian May

Mad Max 2: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is a soundtrack album for the 1981 film, Mad Max 2, composed by Brian May. It was released on vinyl in the United States in 1982 by Varèse Sarabande, followed by a CD release on 25 October 1990.

<i>Star Wars: The Force Awakens</i> (soundtrack) 2015 film score by John Williams

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the film score to the 2015 film of the same name composed by John Williams with Williams and William Ross conducting, and Gustavo Dudamel appearing as a "special guest conductor". The album was released by Walt Disney Records on December 18, 2015, in both digipak CD and digital formats.

<i>Chekka Chivantha Vaanam</i> (soundtrack) 2018 soundtrack album by A. R. Rahman

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is the soundtrack album, composed by A. R. Rahman with song lyrics by Vairamuthu to the 2018 Tamil film of the same name. The film features an ensemble cast including Arvind Swami, Vijay Sethupathi, Jyothika, Silambarasan, Arun Vijay, Aishwarya Rajesh, Dayana Erappa and Aditi Rao Hydari in the lead roles.

The 1969 animated film A Boy Named Charlie Brown, based on Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts, had two different soundtrack albums. These albums were released individually in 1970 and 2017.

Music of the <i>Back to the Future</i> series Film franchise soundtrack album list

The music of the Back to the Future series is composed in conjunction with the development of several feature films and a stage musical, within the Back to the Future franchise created by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. All music in the franchise was composed by American composer Alan Silvestri, with The Musical being co-written with Glen Ballard.

The music for the 2021 American film Dune was composed, conducted, and produced by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer wrote several soundtracks of music for the film, including for its as-yet-unreleased sequel, and heavily utilized choir—specifically female voices—percussion, and strings in the score's instrumentation, as well as acoustic and wind instruments. New, hybrid instruments were fabricated to conceive the "otherworldly" tonal desert sounds heard in the film. The music has been described as the composer's most "unorthodox" and experimental yet. In addition, the score for the film earned Zimmer his second Academy Award for Best Original Score. When Dune: Part Two was announced for a 2023 theatrical release, it was revealed that Zimmer had begun work on the film's music and had over an hour of music to assist the filmmakers in planning the film.

<i>Spirited</i> (soundtrack) 2022 soundtrack albums

Two soundtrack albums were released for the 2022 Christmas-themed musical comedy film Spirited: an original soundtrack and an original score. Republic Records released both the albums on November 18, 2022, the same day as the film’s release on Apple TV+. The soundtrack features original songs from the film written by the songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and performed by the ensemble cast members: Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani, Tracy Morgan and Patrick Page. The second album features the motion picture score composed by Dominic Lewis.


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